Barbarism and Tragedy in Gaza


Matthew Williams/The Conflict Archives: Graffiti by Palestinians. 

Matthew Williams/The Conflict Archives: Graffiti by Palestinians. 

Israeli security forces killed over 60 protesters while wounding thousands more in a single day, the worst act of violence in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict since the 50 day war in Gaza in 2014. Over 100 Palestinians have been killed and wounded with no casualties among Israeli civilians or the Israeli military cracking down on protesters over the last six weeks. The asymmetry of the conflict - as with the one-sided wars in Gaza in 2008, 2012 and 2014 - are clear as is the disproportionate deployment of force by the Israeli government to quell Palestinian activists, insurgents and terrorist activities. The IDF has its boot firmly on the Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank, however the last decade of occupation and governance has been defined by acts of naked barbarism and cruelty compounded by the toxic legacy of the second intifada and cultivated by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's ceaseless strongman politics. 

Netanyahu's provocations and President Trump's actions serve domestic objectives. As Dr. Bregman argues, " President Trump knows close to nothing about the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, and I doubt whether he can even point at Jerusalem on a map. What Trump cares about most is his electoral base at home and whatever he does, including his decision to move the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem (which his predecessors were careful not to do) is driven by his domestic politics. Even if taking such a step might frustrate the entire Arab world and even lead to bloodshed between Israelis and Palestinians, it is still worth doing in Trump’s eyes."  For Prime Minister Netanyahu, provoking the Palestinians, as with his and other hardliners successful lobbying to end the U.S involvement in the Iranian nuclear deal, serves to distract from protests and investigations into allegations of corruption. Victories in foreign policy will ease domestic woes and conflict with the Palestinians and even a wider regional war with Iran seem to be a price the bullish veteran is willing to pay to bolster his political grip. 

The rage amongst the Palestinians and Gazans today bears parallels to the first intifada of 1987.  Yasser Arafat and the Palestinian Liberation Organisation were in exile in Tunis and the civil war in Lebanon and the Iran-Iraq War dominated headlines in the region. Absent effective leadership and with the PLO plagued by corruption, incompetence, awash with armchair revolutionaries and led by an ageing Arafat, the Palestinian identity crisis  exploded into life in the Gaza Strip after twenty years of occupation (defined increasingly by coercion, "physical pressure" (a.k.a torture) and humiliation) and the unaddressed traumas of the 1947 Nakba. Similar parallels exist once again in 2018, but this time the United States' is weaker and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been sidelined by other serious conflicts such as the Syrian War.

The U.S ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley described those who associated the appalling violence on Monday with the embassy move to Jerusalem as "sorely mistaken" is in-part correct. Jerusalem was the catalyst for a string of factors left unaddressed by the Israelis and Palestinians which have been wilfully ignored by the Arab countries and overshadowed by the wars in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Libya and Afghanistan and left international leaders scrambling on a conflict - one of the world's longest - woefully unaddressed for a long time.

The Bush administration appeased Ariel Sharon's potent narrative and in the context of 9/11, the narrative worked magnificently as the walls were cast around Gaza and the West Bank and Arafat, the Palestinian Authority and Hamas' leadership were smashed. The Obama administration was no better and its failures to bring Israel to the table have led to President Trump's political carnage. President Obama, while at odds with Netanyahu, never transferred his personal dislike of the man into clear-cut actions, even as the latter tried to destabilise the Iran deal crafted by international community and the spearheaded by careful diplomacy encouraged by Secretary of State John Kerry. Worse still, Netanyahu's explicit belligerence towards the Obama administration was rewarded with record armaments deals and the administration while critical of settlement expansion did nothing to stop Israel's settlement projects in the West Bank.

Trump has upturned the status quo established in the 1990s and perhaps it is a blessing in disguise even if much violence will result from his erratic politics. The Oslo Accords were fast becoming a sham and by nakedly and brazenly aligning itself with the Likud coalition, the United States' has officially disqualified itself as a serious peace-broker in the conflict. Such actions may spark the international community to take its own actions to solve the conflict. It is in their interests to do so as the stupidity and extremism rife in both governments of Trump and Netanyahu produce violent upheaval across the region. The Palestinians will not get a state unless they launch a massive, non-violent intifada which would stop the occupation from functioning effectively. Only this, not suicide bombs and rockets, will end the occupation.

The Israeli military has its boot firmly on Gaza and the West Bank. However, the last decade of occupation has been defined by acts of naked barbarism and cruelty.

The ceremony unveiling the embassy itself, alongside President Trump's video of congratulations,  which was excruciating to watch will be remembered as a day of tragedy, controversy, abhorrent hypocrisy and folly.  At the time, Trump's announcement to move the embassy to Jerusalem was followed by a promise for a "Deal of the Century". Despite criticism, Trump has succeeded in one way in regard to the bitter conflict. His cutthroat approach to a region and a conflict he does not understand has inadvertently reignited the question of contemporary Palestine's statehood. Prime Minister Netanyahu and his gleeful cohort of right-wing and messianic settlers and the Likudnik billionaires ‒ Sheldon Adelson, Bernard Marcus, and Paul Singer ‒ that have supported Netanyahu's political empire will regret turning Jerusalem into Trumpusalem. 

This promises perpetual conflict and suffering for Israelis and Palestinians alike and sinister images and footage in the Gaza War reveal how the official narratives spouted by Trump and Netanyahu's governments are near nonsensical. International criticism is something Israel can withstand so long as it has unconditional American support. When it is quiet, the Israelis sit on the Palestinian conflict. When it is noisy, the Israelis dig in and withstand international criticisms by activating its Hasbara (which means in Hebrew to explain) propaganda machine.  

However, with each passing war and massacre seen on Monday, the Israeli government, the most right-wing in the country's history, have continued to set one appalling precedent after another in the last decade of a fifty year old occupation. The escalation of the conflict into extreme violence and rhetoric should alarm everyone who cares about Israeli security, yet alone the Palestinians. The Israeli government will not move unless it is under pressure. U.S pressure under President Ford's administration and diplomatic bribes (new military hardware) brought Israel's right-wing Likud government to the table with Egypt in the Camp David Accords of 1978. Similar methods including diplomatic pressure, a boycott of settlements and arms embargoes on Israel will only work when conditions are ripe on the ground for political change.

Israeli politicians like Netanyahu can afford to kill Palestinians because it doesn't cost them economically, politically or militarily. In a region beset by conflict and violence, Israeli officials can't sell Western morality to a public which (largely) demands security and the Arab states have proven time again that they, for all their rhetoric, do not care about the Palestinian cause enough to take effective action. Egypt has played a key role in suffocating the Palestinians in Gaza as the Israelis; Saudi Arabia has all but abandoned the Palestinians as it aligns itself with the Israelis in the Cold War with Iran; and Al-Asad's Syria has slaughtered and starved Palestinians in Yarmouk. 

Nonetheless, whether pro-Zionist, pro-embassy in Jerusalem, pro-not having embassy in Jerusalem, pro-Trump, pro-Palestinian, pro-Hamas, anti-BDS, pro-BDS, pro-Netanyahu, right, left, centre, pro-American, anti-American, pro-Jerusalem, anti-settler movement, pro-settler movement, two-state solution, one state solution, pro-annexation, anti-annexation, pro-Israel, pro-Muslim, pro-Jewish, pro-Christian or none of them, standing against what happened on Monday and not allowing violence such as this to normalise is imperative. Fiendish narratives which have torn lives apart and fed the tragedy of the Israeli-Palestinian fade away when the names of all those who have perished in this conflict appear, both Israeli and Palestinian. They all have names, they all have faces, they all had lives.

Peel away the disputes over a stupid building and ownership of a city, peel away the history, peel away the Middle East and peel away Israel and Palestine and its narratives and propaganda, and all that is left is an appalling act of violence. Israelis and Palestinians are not unique, their conflict is not unique, they are human. Once you humanise them, remove the labels, and stop looking at the conflict in binary, black and white narratives and stop placing the conflict with such a special status, the gravity of Monday's horrors become clearer. A group of well-armed men and women (without suffering casualties) shot over sixty men, women and children and wounded thousands. In any part of the world, on any strip of land, holy or secular, on another planet, that is not war, that is terror. 

Matthew C.K Williams